Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbor

I. This Ninth Commandment lays the foundation for a broad restriction.

A. The choice of words is always significant.

1. ANAH is the Hebrew word translated "bear" and properly means "to eye" or "to pay attention to"

a. It is frequently applied to the idea of communication where concentration on words is important (sing, testify, answer, etc.: Job 1:7-8; Ezra 3:11).
b. It is also frequently applied to the idea of personal injury through the attempt to "browbeat" or "look down on" (afflict, chasten, force, humble, ravish, etc. Deuteronomy 26:6; Isaiah 25:5).
c. It would support an expanded translation of: “do not purposely intend to injure…”

2. SHEQER is the Hebrew word translated "false" and conveys the idea of "cheating" or "planned untruth."

a. It is often used as the descriptive term for "lie" and "deceit" (Psalm 31:18; Proverbs 31:30).
b. It is often used as the proper term for planned deception (Jeremiah 3:10; 8:8; 14:14; 23:14-32).
1) The repeat of the command by Moses centers on the injury caused (Deuteronomy 5:20), and uses a synonym for "false."
2) The word (SHAV) would better be translated "devastating" or "destructive" (Proverbs 24:28).
3) The activity is compared to a "maul, a sword, and a sharp arrow" (Proverbs 25:18).
4) The example used by Moses (Deuteronomy 19:16) uses another synonym for “false.”
5) The word (CHAMAC) and means “to be violent.”
6) Proverbs 16:29 – “A violent man enticeth his neighbor, and leadeth him into the way that is not good.”
c. It would support an expanded translation of:  “do not... plan to deceive (intending to injure) with…”

3. 'ED is the Hebrew word translated "Witness", and is a contracted form of the word 'UWD meaning "to repeat."

a. It consistently has the idea of "testimony" in the sense of "a report" (Deuteronomy 17:6-7; 31:19-21, etc.).
b. It frequently contains the idea of a harmful or unpleasant report (I Samuel 8:9; 1 Kings 21:10-14, etc.).
c. It would support an expanded translation of:  “do not... repeat a harmful report…”

4. REYA' is the Hebrew word translated "Neighbor" and properly meaning "an associate, a compan­ion.”

a. It carries the implied meaning of close association.
b. It comes from the Hebrew word RA'AH which means "to tend, to pasture" i.e., "to cultivate.
c. It would support an expanded translation of: “one with whom you have established a relationship.”

5. An expanded translation could well be:  “do not purposely intend to injure or plan to deceive others by repeating a damaging report about one with whom you have established a relationship.”

B. The amplification by Zechariah is enlightening (Zechariah 8:16-17).

1. These are the things that ye shall do; Speak ye every man the truth to his neighbor; execute the judgment of truth and peace in your gates:  And let none of you imagine evil in your hearts against his neighbor; and love no false oath: for all these are things that I hate, saith the LORD.

2. We are to speak the truth (Ephesians 4:25).

3. We are to render sound justice (1 Corinthians 6:1-5).

4. We are not to plot evil (Zechariah 7:9-10; Romans 12:9, 17, 21).

5. We are not to enjoy lying (Proverbs 12:22; Revelation 22:15).

II. The Bible gives examples of good that apparently came from untruth.  What is the difference and why is it permitted or tolerated?

A. Abram lied to Pharaoh about is wife Sarai (Genesis 12:12-13; 20:2).

1. Abram lied to protect himself with little regard for Sarai.

2. Abram received humiliating rebuke from those to whom he lied (Genesis 12:18-19; 20:9-10).

3. Abram was protected by God (not condoned) in spite of his sin, because of a greater sovereign plan. (Genesis 12:17; 20:6-7).

B. Isaac repeated the same lie about Rebecca to Abimelech (Genesis 26:7).

1. Isaac received humiliating rebuke from those to whom he lied (Genesis 26:10).

2. Rebecca was protected by God in spite of Isaac’s sin (the lie was not condoned), because of God’s sovereign plan. (Genesis 26:24).

C. Jacob lied to obtain the Blessing of the Promise (Genesis 27:24).

1. Isaac was clearly in the wrong and Jacob was desperately trying to follow God’s prophecy (Genesis 25:23, 28).

2. Jacob had no intent to gain from this – he lost everything he might gain from being a son of Isaac. (Genesis 28:5).

3. Jacob was never condemned by God. To the contrary, Jacob was both commended and blessed by God for his choice (Genesis 28:10-15).

D. Hebrew midwives lied to Pharaoh (Exodus 1:15-19).

1. Pharaoh was clearly in the wrong and Shiphrah and Puah were brave enough to follow God’s will in spite of their personal danger (Exodus 1:17; Acts 5:29)

2. God bless them for their integrity and selfless acts (Exodus 1:20-21).

3. Rahab the harlot is a similar case (Joshua 2:1-6)

E. Michal, David’s wife, lied to protect David (1 Samuel 19:14-15).

1. Saul was clearly in the wrong and Michal was trying to protect her husband (1 Samuel 19:11-12).

2. Michael had little to gain from this – she lost favor from her father. (1 Samuel 19:17).

3. God used Michal in spite of Michal’s lie, because of a greater sovereign plan for David (Acts 13:22).

F. Jonathan, Saul’s son, lied to protect David (1 Samuel 20:5-6).

1. Jonathan was willing to protect David –even at the risk of his life (1 Samuel 20:30-34).

2. God used Jonathan in spite of the planned deception, because of a greater sovereign plan for David (Acts 13:22).

G. Selfless motivation and respect (fear, reverence) for God’s plan is the common factor in those “false” incidents that God does not condemn.  God may use “lies” for His plans even as he can use “the wrath of man to praise” him (Psalm 76:10).

III. The Ninth Commandment is expanded throughout Scripture

A. So-called “half-truths” are not godly.

1. Flattery and hypocrisy are wrong (Psalm 12:1-3; Proverbs 29:5).

2. Joking and jesting are wrong (Proverbs 26:18-19; Ephesians 5:4).

3. Deceptive refusals are wrong (Proverbs 3:27-29; 1 John 3:17-18).

B. Slander, gossip, and tale bearing are wrong (Psalm 101:5). 

1. This does not reflect a faithful spirit (Proverbs 11:13; 20:19).

a. Paul was injured by such people (Romans 3:8; 1 Corinthians 10:30).
b. Jeremiah almost left the ministry because of such people (Jeremiah 20:10).
c. Ten unfaithful spies almost destroyed a nation (Numbers 13:32; 14:36-37).

2. This is a most injurious practice (Proverbs 26:20-22).

a. The "wounds" (roll to pieces) hurt grievously.
b. The activity divides best friends (Proverbs 16:28).

3. This is strictly forbidden (Leviticus 19:16).

a. We are not to "speak evil" of any man (Titus 3:2).
b. We are not to "talk against" each other (James 4:11).
c. We are to stop all "evil speaking" right after salvation (1 Peter 2:1).

C. Lying has it source in a heart attitude.

1. Paul connects lying with evil talk (Colossians 3:8-9; Ephesians 4:29).

2. James connects bitter hearts with lying (James 3:14-16).

3. John connects evil behavior with lying (1 John 1:6; 2:4).

IV. This Ninth Commandment has sobering consequences.

A. The false witness is hated by God.

1. The lie originated with Satan (John 8:44; 1 John 2:21).

2. The lying tongue is an abomination to God (Proverbs 6:17-19; 12:22).

3. The liar, the backbiter, the gossip will not abide with God (Psalm 15:1-3).

4 The lying and falsely living person will be separated from God (Isaiah 59:1-13).

5. Those who reverse truth and error come under special condemnation and judgment (Isaiah 5:20-24)

B. The willing false witness will be judged.

1. Such a person will not escape punishment, (Proverbs 19:5, 9).

2. Such a person may die prematurely (Acts 5:4-10).

3. Such a person may wind up in hell (Revelation 21:8, 27; 22:15).

C. The Lord’s own definition of “neighbor” is worth considering.

1. Luke 10:29-35 – the “Good Samaritan” parable.

2. The Lord’s application: “Which now of these three, thinkest thou, was neighbor unto him that fell among the thieves?  And he said, He that shewed mercy on him. Then said Jesus unto him, Go, and do thou likewise.”

The Ten Commandments


Living in His Light and His Love

A Life of Loving God's Word in Psalm 119

The Power and Perseverance of Grace

A New You and a New Life

A series of lessons on chapters 1-11 of Genesis

The People and Power of Christ

A series of lessons on the lives of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and Joseph

A series on the book of Revelation

Loving God and Loving Others in Exodus 20

Go to top